From the New Scientist:
Sweden calls for a ban on cluster bombs
The first global assessment of cluster weapons, released today, estimates they have killed or wounded about 100,000 people worldwide since they entered widespread use in the 1960s – 98% of them civilians.
The assessment, published by Handicap International (HI), comes one week before arms talks in Geneva, where Sweden will propose a ban on cluster weapons.
The move has gained momentum in recent weeks after reports of civilians killed and maimed by the weapons in Lebanon.
Cluster weapons are bombs or shells that contain dozens of small explosive “submunitions”, designed to scatter over a wide area and then explode.
But an estimated 10% fail to explode, and remain lurking in places where people live and work, injuring civilians sometimes years after a conflict is over. One-third of the casualties are children.
There have been moves to ban these weapons for several years. But the campaign has been hampered by the fact that the exact damage caused by cluster munitions had never been measured.
Today’s assessment includes 11,044 reliably confirmed casualties in the 23 countries where cluster munitions have been used.
“And today we can add another 800 to that number,” HI researcher Katleen Maes told New Scientist, as newly confirmed case reports have come in from Iraq.
Nevertheless, that is a gross underestimate, she says. The true number of killed and wounded may be around 100,000.
Most countries do not record people hurt by submunitions separately from those hurt by other “explosive remnants of war”, she explains.
This estimate is important because existing international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions and the Conventional Weapons Treaty, whose members meet in Geneva next week, already ban weapons that kill indiscriminately, and harm non-combatants.
“We think cluster weapons should already be illegal because of those treaties, says Angelo Simonazzi, head of HI. “But the best thing might be a separate treaty, like the one banning landmines.”
Sweden, backed by Austria, Mexico and New Zealand, plans to propose separate measures banning cluster munitions under the Conventional Weapons Treaty.
Belgium banned their use and export this year; Australia and Norway have a moratorium on their use; and Germany says it will stop using them.
The US, the UK, China and Russia oppose a ban, however. All produce cluster weapons.
The UK opposes the Swedish move, insisting that existing humanitarian law is enough, and weapons designers should instead try harder to make submunitions that do not fail to explode.
Renewed attention has been focused on cluster weapons after Israel used them in Lebanon during July and August 2006.
Pressure group Landmine Action claims that many of the submunitions were old, and thus more likely to not explode on impact. Since then, about three people per day are reported to have been injured.
But in its report, Handicap International notes that Hezbollah also used cluster munitions. At least 13 people were killed or wounded by these, the report claims.
See also here.
UN anti-mine programme faces cuts: here.
History of wars and machismo in Europe: here.